We all know the popular adage that says if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. What we get when we heed that sound advice are lessons in the value of perseverance, commitment, and respect. All worthwhile virtues. What it fails to address, however, at least on the surface, are the equally important components of character development known as discernment, non-attachment, and preparedness.
There is nothing wrong with establishing intentions and goals for yourself within your yoga practice. In fact, so long as they are reasonable and healthy, it is generally encouraged to do so. Because our bodies are so easily affected—meaning that they adapt quickly, and we can see and feel that happening—our āsana practice allows us (relatively) easy access to the kinds of attitudes associated with goal-setting such as patience and dedication. Embodying the try try again mentality by staying focused in the midst of setbacks is one of the first stages of successful goal-setting, because, as you know, if you give up too soon you will never accomplish anything.
But, like most things, there is more to it than that. All trying and no yielding does not typically help you reach your goals; it is more likely that you’ll be left feeling more exhausted and frustrated than satisfied. That is because the qualities of steadfastness which make up the early stages of goal-setting must be tempered by more refined stages which include qualities of awareness and honesty.
Cultivating discernment on the mat means, among other things, knowing the importance of right and proper timing. There are right times and less right times to be determined. Sometimes determination turns into something more like stubbornness, or relentlessness to the point of vice rather than virtue. You must be able to pause and reflect on the propriety of what you are seeking—Is this the right time for me to work toward this goal? Am I in the best place mentally, energetically, and emotionally? Do I have sufficient time to devote toward the hard work required as well as adequate time for rest in order to rejuvenate? Do my reasons for wanting to achieve this goal match my current values as a person and a practitioner? Does this goal fit into my personal vision of practice—the way I want and need my practice to look and feel right now? Answering No or I Don’t Know to any of those questions may indicate that now is not the right time for that particular goal. That is not to say that it is an outright poor or wrong goal for you to have; only that some other time down the road, given a different set of circumstances, may prove to be much more fruitful. A good goal isn’t by itself sufficient; it has to be the right one at the right time.
Acting from a state of mindful non-attachment is something we have been introduced to already. (See previous post: "Non-attachment, or How to Practice Without Practicing"). It is a difficult part of yoga practice, indeed of life in general, so it is definitely worth repeating. Sometimes we come to think that some yoga pose is vital to our practice; that our practice is in some way defined or measured by our ability to perform the pose. For varied reasons, we may have decided that achieving it somehow indicates an important personal victory, or that it means we have graduated beyond the “beginner” stage of practice, or that it will help us to get our teacher’s attention, or that it is the mark of a true yogi. But those are all superficial feelings attached to the materiality of the object you are seeking. To be non-attached means to set aside the superficial pleasure of achievement or the displeasure of defeat, and instead to abide in a deep sense of inner fulfillment and in recognition of an essential human capacity that radiates from your core. Knowing why you want or need the achievement of some goal in your practice is crucial, and it is only when you practice for the right reasons that you will receive that which is truly worthwhile to have.
Goals are much simpler to achieve when they have been properly prepared for. Preparedness refers to both the present moment as well as to the recent and distant past. Present moment preparedness means showing up to practice. You have to actually be on the mat in order to experience growth and progress within your practice. That seems so obvious, yet we all need explicit reminding of it sometimes. It also means showing up on time and staying until the end. If you cannot be at your practice for the entirety of it (whether it is a personal practice at home or a public class), it means you have not properly prepared your schedule, your agenda, in such a way as to make practice a priority. And that will make progress more difficult. Present moment preparedness also includes things like arranging your practice space neatly—practicing in a clean, warm, well-lit room, and using clean props which are in good condition and which are kept tidy when not in use. That kind of thoughtful organization helps to ensure that your practice goes smoothly and leaves you feeling rejuvenated rather than frazzled.
Another element of preparedness in regards to your physical practice includes proper warm-ups. If you plan to include a difficult or challenging āsana in your practice, you must have completed the prerequisite work. That includes both presently and in the past. During this practice, during this class time, during this sequence of poses, have I properly prepared by body so that it is ready to try this pose? Also, over the course of several practices, throughout the span of my yogic lifetime, as part of an ongoing series of developments and achievements, have I properly prepared by body so that it is ready to try this pose? And keep in mind the ways in which you must be properly prepared other than physically. You must have also done the necessary work so as to be emotionally, psychologically, and energetically ready. Preparedness does not guarantee success; there are other contingencies involved. However, lack thereof will almost always leave you bested.
So it isn’t just try, try again. It’s more like if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again IF that’s the best choice for you; and if it’s not, then consider doing something else, and maybe try again later.
More could be said about all of these things. But my point is to say that our focus in our DK class is shifting again. We have spent many recent weeks (maybe a couple or few months?) diligently working on upright hip-openers and seated forward folds. It has gone quite well. But it seems as though progress has reached a kind of plateau, and now is the time to direct our attention elsewhere for a while.
We are going to bring Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and its variations back to the forefront of our class time for the next several weeks. The intention is two-fold: (1) experience the Shoulderstand cycle in light of all the hip-opening, core-stabilizing, and upper-back mobilizing which has been such a big part of our recent practices, and (2) use the Shoulderstand cycle to continue to improve that same hip-opening, core-stabilizing, and upper-back mobilizing we need to get over the plateau and into deeper seated forward bend work.
In other words, our original Shoulderstand work set some of the foundation for the initial seated floor work, and now that introduction to seated floor work is going to prove fruitful toward deeper Shoulderstand work, which should likewise feed back into deeper seated floor work in the near(-ish) future. Something like that.
So, with a variety of poses beforehand and afterward, the following is the sequence of events we will be strongly focused on for the coming weeks:
Salamba Sarvangasana I (Supported Shoulderstand first variation) 
Salamba Sarvangasana II (Supported Shoulderstand second variation) 
Halasana (Plow pose) 
Karnapidasana (Ear-pressing pose) 
Supta Konasana (Reclined Angle pose) 
Parsva Halasana (Side Plow pose) 
Ekapada Sarvangasana (One-legged Shoulderstand) 
Parsvaikapada Sarvangasana (Side One-legged Shoulderstand) 
Matsyasana variation (Fish) [112-14]